Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Chew softly

Imagine that the person next to you has their lunch out – say, a soup and a sandwich. You can’t help but notice the person is chewing loudly, each up-and-down motion a squishy, wet, saliva-filled smack. It is loud in the quiet of the room.

For most people, awareness of the continued noise goes away after a few seconds. They stop hearing it – much like how you stop hearing the low rumble of an air conditioner within a few seconds of someone turning it on.

However, for a small group of people, this repeated sound launches them into a panic attack. Their muscles tighten; their heart starts racing. They might shoot furtive glances across the room, seeking out people who are also sharing in their discomfort. The slurping of the soup, the clanking of the spoon against the bowl, the crunch of the bread as they bite down – they hear everything, and they hear it loudly. No matter how hard they try, they cannot tune it out.

“Just don’t pay attention to it,” someone might say. “It’s just a noise.”

For people with misophonia, any repetitive noise, be it gum chewing, loud typing, or sniffling, isn’t “just a noise.” Misophones suffer from selective sound sensitivity, caused by “trigger noises” found in everyday life. According to the science journal Cell, these triggers cause people with misophonia to experience varying degrees of sensitivity to repetitive stimuli, ranging from slight discomfort, to suicidal thoughts, to a fleeting but strong urge to injure or even kill the person making the noise.

But of course, even after knowing this, most people without the disorder still regard it as “not a big deal.” After all, it doesn’t affect them. They might agree that such noise can bother or annoy them to a limited extent, but don’t understand the immobilizing effect it can have.

***

We need to be especially attentive to issues that aren’t so apparent on the surface – the largely ignored, the stigmatized. A widely known quote illustrates that there’s a part of mental health we don’t talk about: “If I had a broken leg, nobody would make me walk on it.” If something is wrong with you physically (e.g. you broke your leg), people are more willing to empathize, lend an ear, accommodate. But mental illness doesn’t evoke the same sentiments. The effects are not as obvious. Just like how you cannot bike to class with a broken leg, some things are nearly impossible with a mental illness. But if you are suffering from depression, for example, people still expect you to function. You still have to go to work. You still have to say “good,” when people ask, “How are you?”

If someone puts themselves in a position vulnerable enough to tell you something that might not be “acceptable” or readily understood, hear them out. Don’t be too quick to dismiss ideas or the impact they might have on people.

Try to understand things (and people) before you brush them off. Listen, and you just might hear the chewing too.

Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.